Philobiblon: Sentimental Murder

Monday, October 04, 2004

Sentimental Murder

Also on my holiday reading list was John Brewer's Sentimental Murder, HarperCollins, 2004, an account of the treatment through the centuries of the story of the killing in 1779 of Martha Ray, the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, by a clergyman with whom she had apparently had only casual social contact, James Hackman.

It was an enjoyable, informative read, although not, it seems to me, quite so astonishingly original as some of the reviews, particularly the Observer's, suggested. It does, however, draw together a wide range of sources in an analytical way.

(That reminds me of one final lovely line from Richard Vinen - "Historians are fond of complimenting each other on their 'mastery of the sources' (as if 'the sources' were a rebellious tribe on the North-West Frontier)." p. 642.)

One thing that is striking in reading Sentimental Murder is how often the same debates come around again and again.

"One critic of the 'new journalism' complained to the Morning Post:

The Political Controvery at the beginning of the Present reign [George III's], taught printers to feel their Power: we then first find Personal Abuse, unrestrained, stalk abroad, and boldly attacked by Name the most respectable Characters. Your brethren were not idle in taking the hint: from that Period we find a material change in the stile of every News-Paper; every Public Man became an object of their attention; and many a sixpence has a Patriot earned, by Paragraphs, which a few years before, would have brought the Printer unpitied to the Pillory." p. 42


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Sentimental Murder, too. But I'm clearly going to have to read Richard Vinen. That quote is delicious.

10/05/2004 10:51:00 pm  

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